Every day the world is flooded with books of all kinds. Though most of these books will have little impact, a few will. Of those few, some may inspire less-than-desirable outcomes from bombings and sexual assaults to extinction-level events. Be careful what you write.
- Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger
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Published way back in 1483, Malleus Maleficarum (English translation: “The Hammer of Witchcraft”), a manual for budding witch hunters, fanned the flames of religious hysteria at the height of Europe’s Protestant reformation. The book would ultimately go through 36 editions over the next two hundred years, no doubt instigating the deaths of countless innocent victims.
- Coma by Robin Cook
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In Coma, seemingly healthy people enter the hospital for minor ailments, only to fall into the titular state of unconsciousness and the clutches of nefarious organ-seeking doctors. Though the story was no doubt thrilling to many, it was less entertaining to millions of real-life patients when organ donation declined nearly 60 percent after the release of the book and its 1978 film adaptation.
- Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock, M.D.
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Dr. Spock’s landmark 1946 book revolutionized American childcare, telling parents for the first time to trust their instincts and treat their children as individuals. Less good, however, was Spock’s admonition that parents put their babies to sleep on their stomachs instead of their backs. Researchers later realized that this practice was a major cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), but by that point, it was too late: thousands of babies had died, in part, from Spock’s advice.
- The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale by Joseph Conrad
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This 1907 Conrad novel, a dive into the dangerous world of anarchists, espionage and terrorist activity, eerily foreshadows much of the current global status quo. Ted Kaczynski, the notorious Unabomber, viewed the book as a source of inspiration for his bomb-mailing operation, a campaign of terror that killed 3 and injured 23. Identifying with a character that keeps a bomb on his person at all times, Kaczynski read the novel a dozen times and kept it by his bedside.
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
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Though the 1971 Stanley Kubrick adaptation of the novel was acclaimed for its edgy style and content, the horrifically violent tale, unfortunately, spurred several real-life crimes. In 1972, a 16-year-old, reportedly inspired by the film, killed a 14-year-old classmate. One year later, a gang of Dutch men raped a young girl while singing “Singin’ in the Rain,” exactly replicating a crimecommittedd by Alex, Clockwork’s protagonist, in the film. Such an act was especially tragic given that Burgess wrote Clockwork, in part, as a way of coming to terms with the beating and sexual assault of his wife by four American army deserters during a blackout while Burgess was away serving in World War II.
- Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov
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In Foundation, the only thing that stands between humanity and a hopeless 30,000-year dark age is the religion-tinted ideas of mathematician Hari Seldon and his followers. Taking a page from Asimov’s apocalyptic fiction, the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo also proclaimed that the end was nigh, openly using Asimov’s books as a blueprint for their movement. But when the end was not forthcoming, Aum Shinrikyo took the initiative by releasing sarin gas into the Tokyo subway system. The 1995 attack killed 12 and injured nearly 5,000.
- Jaws by Peter Benchley
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Benchley’s book and its wildly popular 1975 Steven Spielberg adaptation taught an entire generation that sharks were essentially evil predators that needed to be killed. The message worked extraordinarily well. Fishermen began shark fishing, shark hunting contests were organized, and governments adopted aggressive anti-shark policies. Benchley fought to save his most famous subjects, but the damage was already done. Shark species populations off the coast of the U.S have declined as much as 50-90% since 1975, earning the ancient marine animal a spot on the endangered species list.
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